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Too much moisture in the hive

Yesterday I when I pulled the drone frames out of the hives, I discovered the most populous hives were dripping wet under the cover. I had tried to prevent this by using upper entrances, but apparently the one-inch holes I installed were not big enough to keep the interior dry in spring.

Part of this problem is due to the weather; it has been rainy and cool for the last several weeks so it’s hard to keep anything dry. It’s also partly due to the populations in the hives—lots of bees mean lots of respiration and also lots of nectar collection. Everything, it seems, gives off moisture.

Moisture in the hive is not a good thing. Disease organisms, fungi, and molds thrive in moist environments and, in cold weather, water droplets can drip down on the bees and chill the brood. Proper ventilation is important for bee colonies year round. Bees can do really well in cold temperatures, but cold and wet is a different story.

I manage to keep my hives dry all winter with one lower and one upper entrance, but this time of year when the populations are huge and nights are still cold, it’s a bigger problem. So yesterday I removed the inner covers and replaced them with screen covers that have half-inch shims along the short ends. The shims prevent the outer cover from laying flat against the screen. The damp air can flow from the hive, up through the screen, and out the half-inch space on either side.

These screens greatly improve airflow but prevent insects—such as foreign bees or wasps—from coming in through the top.

After that was all done, I fed drone brood to the chickens—the ultimate in recycling! The nurse bees eat the pollen so they can secrete royal jelly and feed the larvae, and the chickens eat the larvae so they can lay the eggs which we can eat for breakfast—along with toast and honey, of course. What a system.

Rusty

This 11-year-old Araucana hen thrives on drone brood.

Comments

Steven C

Do you use screened bottom boards? I do, and have never had a moisture problem. My hives sit at the edge of my lawn, and are shaded by trees a lot of the day. I even leave the SBB’s in over the winter (in Massachusetts).

Steven – http://stevensbees.blogspot.com

Rusty

Hi Steve,

Yes, I should have mentioned that. I do use screened bottom boards and my hives are elevated so the air can easily flow up through the screens. Here in the Puget Sound region we are blessed with a rainy season that lasts nine months, October through June. It stops raining about the fourth of July and then we have zero, none, nada rain for three months, during which time everything dries to a crisp.

We probably don’t have much more total rain than you do in Massachusetts, put it just kinda rains all the time, enough so that mold and moss grow everywhere. We call it the “mold and mildew capital of the new world.”

Anyway, I think that is the main problem with keeping the hives dry, and it’s why I experiment a lot with screens and multiple openings. My bees have done well over the years, but I never open a hive without a bucket of rags so I can wipe down the inner cover.

I appreciate your comments, however. I’m glad to hear you use screened bottoms over winter. I try to encourage that but lots of people are afraid to.

Rusty

Anneke

“Drone brood”? What’s that? Drone’s are male bees and brood are the larvae, right? So is “drone brood” larvae that will become drones? I get why the hens want them, 🙂 but why don’t you want them?

Rusty

Hi Anneke,

Thanks for writing. You are right, drone brood is brood that will grow into drones. As for why I don’t want them, read about reducing varroa mites by drone trapping http://www.honeybeesuite.com/?p=727. Drone brood produces many more mites than worker brood. It’s nothing personal.

michelle

Could you use a moisture board in the hive to help with the excess moisture?

Rusty

Michelle,

What’s a moisture board? I’m clueless.

jess

I am having such terrible issues with the moisture and mold, too. I have been propping open my lid with a stick to get some air flow, which is helping a little bit but provides no protection from any foreign marauding creatures. I already have a screened bottom board and an elevated hive. I go back and forth about whether I should get a screened inner cover, too.

If this rain doesn’t end soon………. I don’t know! Everyone’s going a little bit crazy.

Rusty

I have one hive in particular that is just dripping inside. I have a screened bottom board and a screened inner cover. I was wiping out the lid every other day, then I decided I’d split the hive in two. I checked it yesterday after it was split for a week, and now both halves are dripping! What’s going on with these guys, I have no clue. The rest of my hives are not a problem. Weird.

David

I’ve been having the same issue. Mainly seeing mold on both lids, everything else looks ok. Do you think I should clean it of some how? I’ve cleaned 1 box lid using a wire brush but I know that doesn’t get rid of the mold completely. Any recommendations?

Rusty

David,

Vinegar helps retard the growth somewhat. Just take a vinegar soaked rag and rub down the inner surface of the lids. It will grow back eventually, but it’s quick, non-toxic, readily available, and works reasonably well.

Bruce

HI Rusty,

I have a suggestion that may help with with dripping lids although I know you are now recommending the use of wood shavings in a quilt box and a gabled roof. If the lid could be built so that it had about 1″ of slope from one side to the other and on the low end, the apron board would have a 1/4″ gap below the lid. Line the underside of the lid with aluminum flashing, extending it thru and maintaining the slot.
The moisture should condense on the cold metal and roll down the slope and out of the hive. A cleat could be added under the slot to divert drips off the side of the box and screening could be attached to prevent invasion.
Freeze up? Not sure, but I didn’t experience any problems. At worst, it should stop dripping in the center of the hive and move it to the side where I assume it would do less damage.
And by the way, if drips to the sides would be less damaging, why not use an inner cover with the holes on the sides rather than in the center? You were the one who said something about there not being any dumb questions.
Thanks Rusty

Rusty

Bruce,

It sounds like a reasonable idea to me. Have you tried this or are you going to? Could be interesting.

Bruce

I tried it winter of ’11-’12 with a gabled roof over a quilt box with a 3″ thick wool insert; 2″ vents in eaves. The blanket stayed dry.
I will try the slant roof this winter coming, tho I’ve switched to using a piece of 4″ Styrofoam for tops.

bruce

Hi Rusty,

Eating my words again. Upon further reflection after reading your post, “SHOULD MY HIVE TILT FORWARD”, I don’t think a sloped inner metal lid would work. The moisture would freeze and form icicles and drip down upon melting. Another wrong idea.

Sarah

It’s nice to read information and experience on moisture in a beehive when the beekeeper is located in the Pacific Northwest. It is such a different experience from other areas and I’m having much trouble. Here it is mid October and I already have a hive that is molding and smells sour. I’m wanting to try a wool cloth on top with a vent slot. I’m glad to have found your website now and I hope to get some great advice. Screening the top board is something I never thought to do (*slaps head*). Thank you for a great blog.

Rusty

Sarah,

You are right. Ventilation and moisture control around here is the number one priority, both for them and for us.

Sarah

After thinking about those screened top boards…are you just adding a screen over the little hole in the inner cover? Or are you adding a whole sheet of screen with just a wooden frame around it? How much top ventilation do you do? All of our hives have very little stores right now. Was this year a poor season for honey stores or have I missed something?

Rusty

Sarah,

A photo of a screened inner cover is here. For ventilation, I use a screened inner cover and a screened bottom board. I don’t know where you are, so I can’t say if it was a poor season.

Sarah

Thanks for directing me to the post. Thanks exactly what I was looking for. I live just outside the Portland Metro area. I was surprised when my six hives all have basically no stores. So I am making candy boards already.

Peter Bathurst

I use a 4 inch quilt filled with cedar shavings with a pitched vented roof and have never had a moisture problem. The shavings never get wet. Instead of drilling vent holes, you could save time by just adding shims under the cover.

Rusty

Peter,

That makes sense. Thanks!

Randy

First year beekeeper here. Im in Charlotte, NC so the weather changes…well constantly. We now have snow and ice on the ground and it’s still coming down. I love to try new things, so this is what I’m doing.

I bought an exterior hose bib heater (6ft). It come on at freezing to about 38-40º. It’s only warm to the touch. I put it under the lid but on top of the fondant/sugar feeder.

I’m no scientist, but it seems that this, along with the fondant, will keep the hive less damp.

What are your thoughts?

Rusty

Randy,

Just remember that warm bees are active bees and active bees eat a lot more, so be sure to watch their food supply. Also, warm bees may fly outside of the hive believing it is warmer than it actually is. If it’s too cold out there, some may not make it back. I’m leery of too much heat added to winter hives and much prefer a moisture quilt, which works like magic. That said, if you discover something that works, please let me know.

Scott

Rusty I have used the moisture quilt and eek in Alaska and have had great success. I was wondering why the cover assembly is designed for dead air space. Also I hear a lot of chatter concerning hygienic bees. Can it be true.

Rusty

Scott,

I don’t know what you mean about the dead air space. Can you be more specific?

Yes, hygienic behavior is a well known and often studied phenomenon wherein worker bees remove brood that is deformed or infected. It is controlled by a number of genes, many of them recessives, but extremely hygienic bees have been bred. Since many of the controlling genes are recessives, and because of the mating behavior of queens, it is hard to maintain populations of highly hygienic bees when they are open-mated to other more average populations.

Heather Freeman

Hi there,

I’m a long time master beekeeper on the wet West Coast of Canada and have been dealing with the same moisture problems described here. However my architect husband and I have developed a solution that shelters the langstroth beehive from the elements, making it so your equipment lasts a life time and your bees have a better fighting chance year round.
The BEEBRELLA is portable, light, durable and multi-functional for all weather conditions. A responsible architect would never design a house without a large overhang for the sun and the rain, yet we all leave our hives totally exposed to the elements.
Not only does the BEEBRELLA prevent moisture issues by keeping the rain out, it also increases honey harvests by keeping the bees cooler in the hot periods. Please check out our website as we have solved many problems all in one. http://beebrella.ca/

Thanks Heather

Randy

So far, I’ve had good luck with my $20 garden hose warmer under the telescoping lid. Even though it only comes on when it’s below freezing, it only gets to approx. 40º, just enough to dry up any condensation in the hive.

I checked my hive yesterday and they had eaten most of the outermost frames of honey, with plenty to spare (I’m running two deep).

I’ll be sure to report any changes in my hive using the Lowes® hose warmer.

Melissa

It seems my bees struggle to ripen honey and cap. I’m thinking too much moisture in the air. What to do? Could leaving follower board in help? Provided there is room? Located in Eugene, OR

Rusty

Melissa,

I like to use a screened bottom board and a screened inner cover which, together, provide excellent ventilation. Don’t worry about high humidity, Eugene will all too soon be dry enough.

Petes Bees

I use a hipped roof over my hives. I put a screen across the bottom and fill it with cedar shavings. The ends have large vent holes which allow moisture to vent but the hives stay toasty warm.

Rusty

Pete,

Nice idea.

Debbie Raymer

Hi,

I am having moisture problems, this is my first year as a beekeeper so I am stressing, I just put a quilt box on my hives, screened bottom with wood shavings, do I remove the inner cover when I put this on or do I put the quilt box directly on top of the inner cover, appreciate any help.

Thanks, Debbie

Rusty

Debbie,

For the moisture quilt to be most effective, you should put it directly above the brood box or above a feeder rim (eke) that is above the brood box. I just take off the inner covers and store them in my shed.